A Muslim soldier in Indian army has been terminated from the job after he insisted keeping beard for religious reason. Termed as ‘undesirable soldier’ by army, the dismissal of Maktumhusen, a 34-year-old Muslim from Dharwad in Karnataka, was upheld by the Kochi Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) recently.
Maktumhusen, according to a report he was a sepoy in the Army Medical Corps for nearly 10 years, when in 2011 he first sought permission from his Commanding Officer (CO) to grow beard on religious grounds.
The report said that the CO originally allowed him with condition that he get a new identity card and retain the look for the rest of his service.
However, the CO soon discovered that the original rules — Army headquarters letters of 1951 and 1978, based on which he had allowed Maktumhusen to grow beard — had been superseded by amendments to Regulation No. 665 of the Defence Services Regulations and the Ministry of Defence (Army) letter, 1991.
Under the new rules, only Sikhs are allowed to sport a permanent beard. The CO revoked his order and asked Maktumhusen to comply. He refused, prompting the army to sentence him to 14 days detention for disobedience. This penalty had no impact on the soldier and he was discharged from service as an ‘undesirable soldier’ after an enquiry.
The Armed Forces Tribunal was not convinced by the argument of Maktumhusen’s counsel, C.R. Ramesh, that he had the right to grow a beard (under Article 25 of the Constitution on religious freedom) and that he should have rights on par with Sikhs.